Author's note: This is just an amusing little story that I have been thinking of for quite a long time now. It takes place in England during World War II, and thus I have written it in a spoof of the formal and accented tone of English literature of the period. I hope you enjoy it.
A branch of the apple tree that was gray with old age struck the window of the room in which Major Palfrey was packing his trunk. It made so brisk and startling a noise, like an angry postman on a cold morning, that the Major looked up with a sudden frown, while Dinah dropped the silver flask she was carrying, and Dorinda gave a shrill cry like a little owl.
The Major walked to the window and pulled back the curtain. "Look at the moon," he said.
Through the branches of the apple tree, the moon stared straight into the room. It was pale and wild, and round it clung a white collar of shining mist.
"There is wind on the moon," he said. "I don't like the look of it at all. When there is wind on the moon, you must be very careful how you behave. Because if it is an ill wind and you behave badly, it will blow straight into your heart and then you will behave badly for a long time to come. So I hope you are going to be good tonight because I shall be far away in a foreign country for at least a year, and I don't want you to be a nuisance to your mother and worry her with mischief while she is all alone. Do you think you can be good if you really try?"
"It will be very difficult," said Dinah.
"Very difficult indeed," said Dorinda.
"I think," said Dinah with a sigh, "that we are quite likely to be bad, however hard we try not to be."
"Very often," said Dorinda, "when we think we are behaving well, some grownup person says we are really quite bad. It's difficult to tell which is which."
"Would it help you," asked their father, "if I were to give you a trashing before I go?"
He often talked about thrashing them because he himself when he was a boy had been beaten every week and he thought it had done him good, but he was too tenderhearted to put his belief into practice.
"A truly severe thrashing," he said, "would almost certainly be good for you. It would help you to remember me."
"It would make us cry," said Dinah.
"We should cry as loud as we could," said Dorinda.
"And that," said Dinah, "would upset Mother who hates to see us cry."
"I shall be gone for a whole year," said their father, "and because the moon has a white collar round it, which means that an ill wind may be blowing, I am very worried about you."
"I'm not worried," said Dinah.
"Nor am I," said Dorinda.
"My pigtails will be three inches longer when you come back," said Dinah.
"And I will have learned to swim," said Dorinda.
Their father looked unhappy and went to find two pistols which he wanted to put in his trunk because the country where he was going was full of dangerous men and he knew there would be plots and plans against him.
And when he had gone, Dinah said, "Let's try to be good, just to please him, because Father likes to be pleased."
"We could help him to pack," said Dorinda.
"We could pack much better than he has been doing."
"Look at all the things that have to go in yet."
"There isn't much room for them," said Dinah.
"We could make a lot more room if we rolled all his coats and trousers into long sausages instead of hanging them up like that."
So they took three ordinary suits and two suits of uniform off the hangers that held them neatly on one side of the trunk and rolled them into long bundles like sausages. Then they pushed the sausages into the trunk and stamped on them to make them smaller and laid six white shirts in the middle and put two pairs of boots on top of the shirts.
"I think that's better," said Dinah.
But Dorinda was listening to the noise which the apple tree made by beating its longest branches against the window. The wind was growing stronger and the branch made an angry sound - rat, rat, rat-a-tat - and an ugly sound when the twigs came scraping on the glass.
"If apple trees grew bells instead of apples," said Dorinda, "they would make a lovely noise whenever the wind blew."
"Perhaps we could tie some bells on to it," said Dinah.
"That's just what I was thinking," said Dorinda.
"There's a big bell in the school room and seven silver bells in the drawing room and three bronze bells in the hall that Father brought home from China."
"And I know where there's a ball of string," said Dorinda.
"It will be very nice for Father," said Dinah, "to remember the apple tree ringing all its bells on his last night at home."
They went downstairs and got the silver bells, the bronze bells from China, and the big bell from the school room, and went into the garden. The apple tree, as if it were furiously angry, was waving its branches at the sky, and making a noise like a great crowd of people all muttering and whispering their most indignant thoughts. But it was not really angry, it was only playing its favorite game with the rising wind, and when Dinah and Dorinda came it stood quite still and let them climb into its upper branches. They were adept at climbing trees, and they tied the silver bells to the topmost branches, the Chinese bells to the middle ones, and the big school room bell to the lowest bough of all.
No sooner had they finished and returned to the ground than the tree gave its branches a little shake and the bells began to ring.
In the room where their father had been packing his trunk, Dinah and Dorinda stood and listened to the concert.
Ding-dong, said the big school room bell. Ding-dong, come along. Twice two is bing-bang-bong.
Millo, mello, catkin-yelllow, sang the bronze bells from China. Lillo lacquer, pull a cracker. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho! How far to old Hong Kong? Too long!
And the silver bells high in the tree sang, Twinkle-twankle stole some beef, catch his ankle, he's a thief. Lillo lily lady! Dapple apples in the moon, pick some cherries with a spoon, Saturday is pay day!
"What a lovely concert!" said Dinah.
"It's beautiful," said Dorinda.
At that moment, however, their father and mother came into the room, and it was plain to be seen that both were alarmed and angry. Their mother was tall and handsome, but easily worried. She always wore a long string of beads. Sometimes they were white beads, sometimes green, and sometimes red, but always they swung to and fro when she walked, and often, if she turned in a hurry, they would swing out and knock something off the table.
"What is the matter?" she cried. "What is making that awful noise?"
"It's a lovely noise," said Dinah.
"I thought the house must be on fire," said Mrs. Palfrey. "Oh, what a fearful fright you gave me!"
Twice two is bing-bang-bong, shouted the school room bell.
"The apple tree is giving a concert," said Dinah.
"Because it's Father's last night at home," explained Dorinda.
How far to old Hong Kong? Too long! sang the Chinese bells.
"You should have known how upset I would be," said Mrs. Palfrey. "It was very, very inconsiderate of you to do such a thing."
"I have forbidden you to climb trees in the darkness," said their father. "It was a very dangerous thing to do. You are two naughty little girls."
Twinkle-twankle stole some beef, chattered the silver bells on top of the tree. Catch his ankle, he's a thief! Lillo lily lady!
"We were quite safe," said Dinah. "The tree stood perfectly still while we climbed it."
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed their mother. "Look at this!"
"Well, really!" said their father, and stared in amazement at the trunk where his clothes lay neatly rolled into sausages and his boots lay tidily upon his white shirts.
"This is too much," said Mrs. Palfrey. "This is more than I can stand."
"Now, really," said Major Palfrey. "Really, really! I don't know what to say. I think I must give you both a good thrashing."
"We've been helping you to pack," said Dinah.
"There wasn't much room in your trunk," said Dorinda.
"But we found a place for everything," said Dinah.
"My dress uniform!" exclaimed Major Palfrey as he unrolled one of the sausages and held up a scarlet tunic that was creased like a concertina.
"You wretched children!" cried Mrs. Palfrey.
Dinah looked sullen, Dorinda angry. Their parents, they thought, were most ungrateful. They had failed to appreciate some valuable help in packing a trunk, they had not enjoyed the splendid concert in the apple tree. Their parents, thought Dinah and Dorinda, were behaving in a very stupid fashion.
"What's the use of trying to be good," said Dinah, "if you never realize how good we are?"
"We might just as well please ourselves and be bad," said Dorinda.
"You are very bad indeed," said their mother.
"Perhaps they can't help it," said their father. "There is wind on the moon and if it is an ill wind it may have blown into their hearts."
"You had better go to bed before you do any more mischief," said their mother. But it was a long time before Dinah and Dorinda fell asleep, for when they pulled up the blind, the moon looked through the window, and to both of them it seemed as if there was laughter on its face. So instead of being sorry for what they had done, they also began to laugh.
But in the morning just after breakfast they were very sad when their father kissed them good-bye, for they knew that he would be gone for a long time. All that day they sat quite still, doing nothing at all, either good or bad. And their mother thought they behaved very well indeed.